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Anger over US meet-and-greet with Turkish top military brass

Lieutenant General Ilias Bozkurt shaking hands with US ambassador Kathleen Doherty

By Angelos Anastasiou

The presence of uniformed high-ranking officers of the Turkish army at a reception hosted by American ambassador to Cyprus Kathleen Doherty last week sparked outrage by political parties on Monday.

According to Turkish daily Milliyet, the event, which was apparently a meet-and-greet held at the Merit hotel in northern Cyprus last Thursday, was attended, among others, by Lieutenant General Ilias Bozkurt, commander of the Turkish occupation forces in Cyprus, and Brigadier General Erhan Uzun, commander of the ‘Turkish Cypriot security forces’.

The paper reported that, as a rule, the United States invite Turkish army officers at receptions, but this marked the first time all officers were present in uniform.

Also invited were the heads of several foreign diplomatic missions to Cyprus.

Doherty was quoted as expressing satisfaction at assuming the Cyprus post.

Milliyet featured remarks by an unnamed diplomat, who was quoted as saying that “it is very significant that the Turkish army was invited to the USA’s reception in Cyprus. It is a signal of trust by the USA to the Turkish army.”

The paper also cited sources saying that the United States was also pleased by Turkey’s decision to allow digging for missing persons at 30 areas designated as ‘military zones’.

It was not long before photographs, ostensibly from the reception, showing Doherty shaking the hands of uniformed officers emerged, which, predictably, sparked the reaction of the political world in Cyprus.

At a scheduled meeting with Doherty on Monday, Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides raised the issue, government spokesman Nicos Christodoulides said.

Hours later, the US embassy in Cyprus denied the remarks attributed to Doherty at the “embassy’s annual reception in Nicosia” and reaffirmed its Cyprus policy.

“Neither the American ambassador, nor any other American diplomat present, made any statement regarding the Turkish military,” the embassy said in a statement.

“The US embassy rejects in the strongest terms the false attribution and incorrect reporting by the media […] and reaffirms that its policy toward Cyprus remains unchanged.”

With the notable expression of ruling DISY, all political parties in Cyprus lambasted the incident and criticised the government, though none went as far as DISY MEP, Eleni Theocharous, a dissident hardliner that has repeatedly broken party ranks, who demanded the recall of Doherty’s credentials.

In a statement, Theocharous branded Doherty’s stance “unacceptable”

“The American ambassador has lost her credibility and is offensive to the Republic of Cyprus, to which she is accredited, as well as her own country.”

According to the Cypriot MEP, Doherty has “no place in the Republic of Cyprus”.

“She may not playfully greet the commander of the occupation forces,” Theocharous charged.

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